GDC 134-135: “The creativity of local Churches in the elaboration of catechesis”

We’re getting to the close of the GDC’s chapter on catechisms. Be patient.

134. Local Churches, in fulfilling the task of adapting, contextualizing and inculturating the Gospel message by means of catechisms, for different ages, situations and cultures must exercise a mature creativity. From the depositum fidei entrusted to the Church, local Churches select, structure and express, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, their inner Master, all those elements which transmit the Gospel in its complete authenticity in a given situation.

For this difficult task, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a “point of reference” to guarantee the unity of the faith. This present General Catechetical Directory, for its part, offers the basic criteria which govern the presentation of the Christian message.

135. In elaborating local catechisms it will be useful to remember the following points:

– it is a question, above all, of elaborating genuine catechisms, adapted and inculturated: in this sense, a distinction must be drawn between a catechism which adapts the Christian message to different ages, situations and cultures, and one which is a mere summary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and serves as an introduction to its study. These are two different types. (465)

(465) On the distinction between local catechisms and syntheses of the Catechism of the Catholic Church see “Orientamenti sulle sintesi del Catechismo della Chiesa Cattolica”, of the Congregation for the Clergy and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Among other things it notes: “syntheses of the Catechism of the Catholic Church can be erroneously understood to be substitutes for local catechisms even to the extent of discouraging these latter. However, they lack those adaptations to local situations particular to those who are catechized which is required of catechesis”.

This note repeats what we’ve read a few times: the distinctions between a local catechism, a synthesis, and the actual act of catechesis by those who are serving the catechized. In other words, no single book, no single approach, is adequate to the task.

– Local catechisms may be diocesan, regional or national in character. (Cf. canon law 775 §§ 1-2)

– with regard to the structuring of contents, different Episcopates publish catechisms of various structures and configurations; as has been said, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is proposed as a point of doctrinal reference, but, does not impose on the entire Church a determined structure on other catechisms: there are catechisms with a trinitarian structure; others are planned according to the stages of salvation; others again are organized along a biblical or theological theme (Covenant, Kingdom of God, etc.); some are structured around an aspect of the faith, while others again follow the liturgical year;

A liturgical catechism is a curiosity to me. I’m not aware of any such publication. (Nor would I really wish to write one.)

– with regard to the manner of expressing the Gospel message, the creativity of a catechism will have a bearing on its formulation and content, (The question of language both in local catechisms and in catechetical activity is of supreme importance. Cf. Catechesi Tradendae 59) evidently a catechism must be faithful to the deposit of faith in its method of expressing the doctrinal substance of the Christian message:”The individual churches—which are involved not only with men but also with their aspirations, their wealth and their poverty, with their manner of praying and living and their outlook on the world—must make their own the substance of the evangelical message. Without any sacrifice of the essential truths they must transpose this message into an idiom which will be understood by the people they serve and those who proclaim it”; (468)

(468) Evangelii Nuntiandi 63. In the delicate task of assimilation and translation mentioned in this text it is most important to bear in mind the observation of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and of the Congregation for the Clergy “Orientamenti sulle sintesi del Catechismo della Chiesa Cattolica”, 3: “The preparation of local catechisms, which have the Catechism of the Catholic Church as an authoritative and secure reference text (Fidei Depositum 4), remains an important objective for the various Episcopates. However, the foreseeable difficulties which can arise in such an undertaking can only be overcome by an adequate assimilation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Such assimilation even when it is accomplished over a long period of time prepares the theological, catechetical and linguistic ground for a work that really inculturates the contents of the Catechism”.

The principle to be followed in this delicate task is indicated by the Second Vatican Council: “to seek out more efficient ways—provided the meaning and understanding of them is safeguarded—of presenting their teaching to modern man: for the deposit of faith is one thing, the manner of expressing it is quite another”. (Gaudium et Spes 62b)

So what’s all this about? It’s a lot of churchy language just to say that the task of catechesis is driven by two big things: the integrity of the Gospel message, and needs of the catechized to absorb that message. Couldn’t they just have said that? The Catechism and even this directory are subject to these two principles. The churchy language is the formal way of saying, “Do whatever it takes to transmit the message accurately and effectively.”

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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